What makes a winning photo?
When it comes to winners of photography competitions, professional or amateur, it’s never certain who will make it and who won’t. Certain photographs look like they’re perfectly styled, as if they jumped out of a magazine, and yet it’s almost as if they have no ‘’soul’’ or, as the French call it, ‘’je ne sais quoi.’’ Certain others look like they were the work of an amateur rather than a pro – the lighting isn’t quite right, the exposure could have been less, or they don’t follow the famous rule of thirds. Yet, they manage to grab audiences around the world with the mood, feelings or story they capture and they speak to us more than the most perfect of photographs.
Rules aside, there are certain things that photographs that go on to win contests have in common:
- They’re full of emotion: A barefoot child selling flowers on an old dirt road, an old lady enjoying a glass of wine at the beach by herself, a family camping with their dogs…. images that convey emotion, be it positive or negative, are strong images and they speak volumes to us. (http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/photographer-of-the-year-2017/gallery/winners-people/7/)
- They surprise us: It might be the simplest scene on display but there might be some detail or accent about it that doesn’t quite fit and it makes us wonder why it was there to begin with and what it could mean. (http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/photographer-of-the-year-2017/gallery/winners-people/5/)
- They tell a story: Impactful images show more than what the lens captured; they reveal enough to make us imagine the backstory behind the photo, what happened before or after it was taken. (http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/photographer-of-the-year-2017/gallery/winners-people/4/)
- They are mysterious: The human imagination is a powerful force and its ways are deeply personal; images that make us imagine beyond what is shown, are images to remember as they become intricately interwoven into our own lives and fantasies. (http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/photographer-of-the-year-2017/gallery/winners-people/1/)
- They’re not afraid of opposites: What makes a photo really interesting? Certainly not scenes that we are accustomed to seeing every day, but if it is such a composition, then there must be a contrast or a conflict that the image demands of us to reconcile in our minds. (https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/national-geographic-2017-nature-photographer-of-the-year-winners/2/)
- They challenge us to see another side: Often photographs that leave a lasting impact on their audiences are those that challenge our preconceptions of reality and open the door to another possibility that we may not have been able or willing to see previously. (http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/photographer-of-the-year-2017/gallery/peoples-choice-all/3/)
- They’re beautiful: And their sense of beauty goes beyond its conventional manifestations as in a pretty girl or a nice landscape setting. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder: a toothless Burmese grandma smiling wide at her grandchild could be more beautiful than a perfectly toned, haute couture model. (https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/national-geographic-2017-nature-photographer-of-the-year-winners/3/)
- They’re bold: Time and again, we see photographs of horrific crimes or human suffering win National Geographic, Time or other reportage photo competitions. They aren’t pretty or pleasant to look at but they’re real. The competition jury acknowledges the photographers for risking their safety to capture a piece of the truth for us. (http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/photographer-of-the-year-2017/gallery/peoples-choice-all/1/)
- They’re alive: Action photos and those of people and animals are ‘’alive’’ by default but there’s also a way to breathe life into still or landscape images; whether it’s by contrasting colours (or shadows with black & white photography), a misplaced or a playful object, we are drawn to works that have a certain air of liveliness to them. (http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/photographer-of-the-year-2017/gallery/winners-people/3/)
- They aren’t staged: With the exception of fashion or studio type of photography contests, winning pictures are often candid and reflect the photographer’s innate ability to capture a moment – a skill that we can argue is more valuable than photographing subjects or objects that are waiting to be captured. (http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/photographer-of-the-year-2017/gallery/winners-people/6/)
Ready to share your impactful images for the world to see? Join Photagon, the newest online photography contest platform; we’ll be live soon.